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Joe Biden’s Pick for Hungary: Ambassador or Antagonist? by Shea Bradley-Farrell

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Joe Biden’s Pick for Hungary: Ambassador or Antagonist?

Photo: Twitter page of Samantha Power

The recent confirmation hearing of David Pressman, President Joe Biden’s tone-deaf diplomatic pick for U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, calls into question whether the goal of Biden’s administration is to practice foreign diplomacy, or to antagonize a democratic republic and NATO ally.

Mr. Pressman’s confirmation hearing statement on 23 June 2022 appears to deliberately mischaracterize the state of human rights, media freedom, and the rule of law in Hungary. Setting his statement within a context of “rising authoritarianism and democratic backsliding,” Pressman strangely focused on the Russia-Ukraine invasion before noting supposed “troubling trends” and “real threats to democracy” in Hungary. After referring to the Hungarian government and “obvious influence of Russia and China” (obvious to whom?), he promised to combat “the malign influence of Moscow and Beijing” if he is confirmed.

Pressman’s biased statements are a shocking affront to the Hungarian people and their just-elected government by anyone wishing to engage in diplomacy with a NATO ally. Hungary is a republic with a parliamentary system; in April 2022, for the fourth consecutive time, Hungarian voters placed their trust in both Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz-led party alliance. In addition, the conservative party list received more votes from the Hungarian electorate than any other party in Hungary’s history. So much for Pressman’s claims of totalitarianism.

Mr. Pressman’s statements, though promoted by the Biden administration and its mainstream American media, are objectively not true. The majority of Hungary’s media outlets are owned by private companies, about 55% of which are left-leaning and not ideologically aligned with the current government—they operate freely and without government interference. Human rights are protected in Hungary by its constitution, its current government, and by the rule of law. Anyone who has walked the streets of Budapest today knows the freedom, safety, peace, and prosperity enjoyed by Hungarian citizens. Before Mr. Pressman gives false and inflammatory statements before a U.S. Senate committee, he should get his facts straight. 

Why would the U.S. government mischaracterize an ally in this way? The Biden administration’s ill treatment of Hungary appears to have nothing to do with the reality of the state of affairs in Hungary, and everything to do with an attempt to bully a sovereign nation into compliance. President Biden’s bullying has been audaciously blatant—going so far as to call Prime Minister Orbán a totalitarian “thug” and omitting Hungary’s invitation to the U.S.-hosted Summit for Democracy last December, essentially putting Hungary in the same category as communist-led China and authoritarian Russia. 

Hungary, a country that values family, Christian heritage, and traditional values—much like American conservatives—just does not fit into the Biden administration’s extreme liberal agenda. Nor does Hungary wish to relinquish its rights as a sovereign nation. Most recently, PM Orbán stood in the way of the adoption of a global minimum tax on multinational corporations, a tax backed by the Biden administration but opposed by Republicans as a threat to U.S. competitiveness and sovereignty. Shortly thereafter, the Biden administration announced the cancellation of a forty-three year old tax treaty with Hungary. Coincidence? No—punishment. 

Hungary’s refusal to embrace a liberal social agenda has angered both the Biden administration and the EU. During the April 2022 elections, Hungarians voted overwhelmingly against allowing sexualized gender ideology to be taught in schools and kindergartens, believing these to be issues for parents to address, much like Florida’s decision in March 2022. But the EU Commission took legal action against Hungary, and proposed withholding funds, calling Hungary’s decisions “violations of fundamental rights of LGBTIQpeople.” The EU’s actions would be laughable if they weren’t so divisive. 

Is it a coincidence then, that Mr. Pressman is a career leftist political operative who led the Obama administration’s billion dollar promotion of LGBTQ ideology around the world? It would be naïve to think so. 

How is it that disagreement over policy decisions (most of them Hungarian domestic issues) has resulted in such vitriol? Even if the Biden administration disagrees with the policies of the Hungarian conservative government and the citizens which elected Orbán’s administration, surely treating a sovereign NATO ally and member of the European Union with the respect it deserves would be a better approach to effective diplomacy. Traditionally, American tools of diplomacy have included encouragement, persuasion, inducement, and incentives, relying on the positive aspects of commonality. 

The Biden administration should seek to maximize the nobler aspects of our shared beliefs, values, and traditions in order to arrive at the best possible solutions and relationship between the U.S. and our allied countries. This administration should not have begun a prospective ambassador’s new relationship with a foreign ally using the sort of condemnation and condescension reserved for recently vanquished mortal enemies. President Biden and Mr. Pressman have used language recklessly against the Hungarians.

Hungary continues to thrive and prosper as an independent, free, and sovereign nation—how strange that these attributes are not celebrated by both the liberal American and European ruling elite.

What is it about a successful, thriving, conservative, parliamentary democracy that the Biden administration just cannot stand? And how does the Biden administration’s repetition of false and misleading claims against the just-reelected Orbán government strengthen NATO? We are left to wonder how effective Mr. Pressman could possibly be as a diplomat—or if that is even the objective of his appointment to Hungary by the Biden administration. 

Shea Bradley-Farrell, Ph.D., is a foreign policy and national security expert in Washington, D.C. and the president of Counterpoint Institute for Policy, Research and Education (CIPRE). She was a featured speaker at CPAC Hungary 2022.